Waypoint Leasing, a global firm that claims to be the world’s largest independent helicopter leasing company, has identified offshore wind farms as a growth opportunity for the helicopter market.

Although still a small market, offshore wind power is expected to grow in coming years. According to WindEurope, a Brussels, Belgium-based wind industry advocacy group, a record 3,148 MW of newly installed offshore capacity came online in 2017. That was twice as much as in 2016 and 4% higher than the previous record set in 2015. By 2020, WindEurope said offshore wind would grow to a total installed capacity of at least 25 GW, and that figure will likely rise steadily through at least 2030.

With the growth in offshore wind energy comes a need for transportation to offshore structures. “Offshore wind farms are increasingly being supported by helicopters,” Waypoint said. Some estimates suggest helicopter expenditures for offshore wind farms could grow threefold during the next 10 years.

Many early offshore wind farms were developed relatively close to land, which meant they had easier boat access. However, an article published by Rotor & Wing International (R&WI) noted that newly built farms are being located farther offshore, and helicopters have become a more economical form of transportation to and from installations.

Furthermore, helicopters provide more reliable access than boats during inclement weather. A Waypoint study calculated the probability of a successful mission to an offshore wind installation in the North Sea by comparing the two modes of transportation. It found an 87% probability of access using helicopters, while surface vessels only had a 51% access probability.

“Helicopter support for wind power is still in a nascent stage—the first deliveries of aircraft specifically for wind power support were made in 2015, and it’s estimated that there are no more than 30 aircraft worldwide currently dedicated to providing wind power support,” Waypoint said in the R&WI article. “The research noted here, however, makes us confident that there will be at least 100 aircraft servicing these types of installations by 2021.”

To read the full R&WI story, see: “Where in the World Are There Offshore Wind Farm Opportunities?

Aaron Larson, executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)